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Mute Compulsion


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Mute Compulsion

A Theory of the Economic Power of Capital
















Søren Mau 

Department for the Study of Culture  University of Southern Denmark 



Print: Print & Sign, SDU Cover design: Magnus Krysto Total no. of characters: 719.731

Supervisor: Anne-Marie Søndergaaard Christensen PhD defence: June 12, 2019

Assessment Committee: Erik Granly Jensen, Nina Power, Michael Heinrich




A Note on Translations and References 7

Introduction 9





: C


I. Conceptualising Power 37

II. The Social Ontology of Economic Power 73





: R


III. Vertical Power 117

IV. Horizontal Power 153





: D


V. The Production of Power 195

VI. The Accumulation of Power 253

Conclusion 273

Bibliography 283

Appendix A: Cited Volumes of MECW 321

Appendix B: Detailed List of Contents 325

English Summary 329

Dansk resumé 333

Acknowledgements 337








Whenever possible, I have used official English translations of Marx’s writ- ings. When deemed necessary, I have modified these and added a footnote in case of substantial modification. All translations from German texts which are not available in English are mine. References to Marx and Engels’s Col- lected Works (MECW) look like this: (32: 421), which means volume 32, page 421. References to the Marx-Engels-Gesamtausgabe (MEGA2) look like this:

(II.3.4: 1453); this refers to section (Abteilung) two, volume 3.4, page 1453.

Other references to Marx’s writings follow this system of abbreviations:

Capital: Volume One, Penguin. C1

Capital: Volume Two. Penguin. C2

Economic Manuscript of 1864-65. Brill. M

Grundrisse. Penguin. G

Chapter one of the first edition of Capital, in Dragstedt, Albert (ed.): Value: Studies by Karl Marx.


Appendix to the first edition of Capital, in Capital &

Class, no. 4 (1978).


Results of the Immediate Process of Production, appendix to C1.


See the bibliography for more information on the editions used. See also the list of cited volumes of MECW in Appendix A. Different references within the same parenthesis are separated by a semicolon: (G: 234, 536; 33: 324;

IV.1: 43, 56; M: 788) thus means Grundrisse, page 234 and 536, MECW volume 33, page 324, MEGA2 section four, volume 1, page 43 and 56, and Economic Manuscript of 1864-65 page 788.



Capital is the all-dominating economic power of bourgeois society.

—Karl Marx, Grundrisse (G: 107)

If there is one word which sums up the last decade, it must be crisis. Eleven years ago the global economy was struck by one of the most violent crises in its history. The financial system, which is supposed to ensure a seamless cir- culation of money, suddenly choked; profits plunged, companies folded, panic abounded. All over the world, governments rushed to the rescue by socialising the costs through bailouts and austerity. Waves of protests ques- tioned the legitimacy of an economic system which systematically makes life precarious in order to concentrate all wealth in the hands of an ever-smaller global elite. In 2017, the eight richest men owned the same amount of wealth as the poorest half of the global population (Oxfam, 2017). 780 million peo- ple live in chronic hunger, and more than a billion struggle to survive in the ever-growing slums of the Global South (M. Davis, 2017; Smolski, 2017).

According to a global poll from 2013, only 13 percent of employees like their job. In 2017, more than half of European citizens between the age of 18 and 34 said that they were ready to ‘join a large-scale uprising against the gov- ernment’ (Mohdin, 2017). A sense of impending collapse is omnipresent.

‘Something has ended, or should have ended; everyone can feel it,’ as Joshua Clover (2016, p. 31) recently put it.

Yet capitalism persists. In certain respects, it even seems stronger and more far-reaching than ever before. The neoliberal era has been an era of intense capitalist expansion. China and the former socialist countries of the Eastern bloc became fully integrated in the global capitalist economy, the


structural adjustment programmes of the 1980s made many low-income countries considerably more dependent upon global markets, and in the

‘old’ capitalist countries, neoliberal restructuring has handed over ever larger parts of social life to the vagaries of the market. Global supply chains and financialisation have accelerated the circulation of commodities and money and created a tightly integrated system subjecting every corner of the earth to the logic of capital.

So, despite crisis and resistance, capital somehow manages to sustain its grip on the life of society. The aim of this thesis is to contribute to our un- derstanding of why this is so, or how capitalism reproduces itself. This thesis is not, however, a study of the reproduction of capitalism in a specific context.

In what follows, I will rather be concerned with what Karl Marx referred to as the ‘core structure’ or the ‘ideal average’ (M: 376, 898)1 of the capitalist mode of production, i.e., the logics, structures and dynamics that constitute the essence of capitalism across its historical and geographical variations. This is the level of abstraction on which I want to pose the question of the persis- tence of capitalism. To pose this question, I will argue, is essentially to pose the question of the power of capital, i.e., to ask how capital sustains its ability to shape social life. In chapter one, I will explain in detail why I believe it makes sense to speak of ‘the power of capital’. For now, the important thing is to clarify the concept of capital in order to be able to pose this question in a precise manner. In mainstream economics, capital is a transhistorical and rather vague concept which refers to a so-called factor of production, along- side labour and land. Marx subjected this ‘trinity formula’, which originates in classical political economy, to a scathing critique by demonstrating how the juxtaposition of land, labour and capital naturalised what is in fact ‘a definite social relation of production pertaining to a particular historical for- mation of society’ (M: 888). In opposition to the vague and apologetic con- cept of capital in political economy, Marx grasped capital as a determinate social logic—a logic in the sense that it refers not to a specific class of things but rather to a certain way of using things. Analogously to the discipline of phil- osophical logic, which (in its non-Hegelian sense) is concerned with forms of thought rather than their content, capital is a concept which refers to the so- cial form of wealth, not its content. This social form is captured in Marx’s so- called general formula of capital, M-C-M', where M stands for money and C for commodity, and the mark (') next to the second M indicates that the

1 In the English edition of Marx’s 1864-65 Manuscript, the German ‘Kernstruktur’

is translated as ‘basic inner structure.’


second sum of money is larger than the first. The formula represents a ‘pro- cess’ or a ‘movement’ in which value—in its incarnations as money and commodities—is valorised (30: 11, 12, 17; 32, 490). Capital can, as Marx emphasises, ‘only be grasped as a movement, and not as a static thing’ (C2:

185). Everything that is capable of assuming the commodity form—be it coats, fantasies, humans, promises, land or abilities—can be integrated into this movement and thereby be transformed into the ‘body’ of the ‘processing value’ [prozessirende Werth] (II.11: 57).

Capital, in the simple sense of a process of exchange undertaken with the aim of pocketing a profit, has existed for thousands of years prior to the advent of capitalism. Aristotle called it chrematistics and condemned it as un- natural, Saint Paul warned that the ‘love of money is the root of all evil’ (I Timothy 6:10), and throughout the middle ages the church consistently looked upon profit-seeking activities with suspicion. What distinguishes cap- italism from pre-capitalist societies is not the existence of capital as such, but rather its social function. In pre-capitalist societies, the processes and social activities governed by the logic of capital were always marginal; they were never the basis of social reproduction on a wide scale. From the 16th century onwards, a fundamental transformation took place: the logic of capital be- gan to weave itself into the fabric of social life to the point where people became dependent upon it for their survival. Capital became the ‘the all- dominating economic power’ (G: 107), or put differently: society became capitalist. From its origin in early modern English agriculture, this process has relentlessly engulfed the world in the circuits of valorisation. Contrary to a common assumption, the emergence of capitalism was not the outcome of an inherently expansive commercial drive and did not follow automati- cally from the removal of barriers to trade (R. Brenner, 1987a, 1987b, 2007;

Dimmock, 2014; Wood, 2002). Capital’s move from the periphery to the centre of social life was premised on profound changes in social property relations, established with the help of the state. This required the disposses- sion of peasants, the enclosure of the commons, colonial subjugation, dra- conian punishment of vagabonds and beggars and similar violent excesses.

‘[C]onquest, enslavement, robbery, murder, in short, violence, play[ed] the greatest part’, as Marx puts it (C1: 874). Here, I want to introduce the im- portant distinction between the forms of power required for the creation of capitalism and those required for its reproduction. There is no necessary rela- tion between these two forms, and in this thesis, I am exclusively concerned with the reproduction of capitalism. The history of the origin of capitalism is a


history of violence, emanating mostly from state authorities. This does not, however, necessarily tell us anything about how the rule of capital is repro- duced once it has been established.

Previous attempts to answer the question of how capitalism reproduces itself have tended to remain within the boundaries of what Nicos Poulantzas (2014, p. 78) once called ‘the couplet violence-consent or repression-ideol- ogy’ (see also Foucault, 1991, p. 28). The (often implicit) assumption at work in this conceptual scheme is that there are two fundamental forms of power to which all exercise of power can be reduced: on the one hand, violence or the direct, physical coercion of the body, and, on the other hand, ideology or the formation of systems of representations, pictures, concepts, symbols and forms of thought that shape the ways in which people perceive social reality, including themselves. Alternative versions of this duality include coercion and consent, hard and soft power, dominance and hegemony, and repres- sion and discourse. One of the clearest examples of this tendency to think of power in terms of such couplets can be found in Louis Althusser’s analysis of the reproduction of capitalist relations of production. According to him, this reproduction ‘is ensured by the superstructure, by the legal-political super- structure and the ideological superstructure’. Capitalism is, in other words, reproduced by the state-apparatuses, which are divided into two sets accord- ing to the form of power they primarily rely on: the repressive state-apparat- uses (violence) and the ideological state-apparatuses (ideology) (Althusser, 2014, pp. 140, 244).

The perhaps most fundamental claim of this thesis is that the couplet vio- lence-ideology leaves an important form of power unexamined, namely what I will refer to as economic power. This form of power has its roots in the ability to re-organise the material conditions of social reproduction. By social reproduction, I mean the pro- cesses and activities involved in securing the continuous existence of a given society. Whereas violence and ideology directly address the subject, eco- nomic power addresses it only indirectly through the manipulation of its socio-material environment. Economic power thus has to do with the way in which social relations of domination reproduce themselves by being inscribed in the envi- ronment of the subject.

Another equally important claim of this thesis is that Marx’s critique of political economy contains an indispensable basis for a theory of the eco- nomic power of capital, and that it is impossible to explain the paradoxical persistence of capitalism without such a theory. In a decisive passage in the


first volume of Capital from which this thesis derives its title, Marx argues that once capitalism has been established,

the mute compulsion of economic relations seals the domination of the capitalist over the worker [der stumme Zwang der ökonomischen Verhältnisse besiegelt die Herrschaft des Kapitalisten über den Arbeiter]. Extra-economic, immediate violence [Außerökonomische, unmittelbare Gewalt] is still of course used, but only in exceptional cases. In the ordinary run of things, the worker can be left to the “natural laws of production,” i.e., it is possible to rely on his dependence on capital, which springs from the conditions of production themselves, and is guaranteed in perpe- tuity by them. (C1: 899)

What Marx points to in this passage is that capitalism has a unique ability to reproduce itself by means of a form of impersonal, anonymous and ab- stract power embedded in the economic processes themselves. The social relations of domination involved in the economy is thus not sustained only by processes ‘external’ to the economy, as in Althusser’s theory where the reproduction of the property relations in the economic ‘base’ occurs ‘outside’

of this base. The characteristic thing about the power of capital is precisely that it has an ability to reproduce itself through economic processes, or, put differently, that the organisation of social reproduction on the basis of capi- tal gives rise to a set of powerful structural mechanisms which ensure its reproduction all by itself, as it were. Here, we see the significance of the distinction between the original creation of capitalist relations of production and their reproduction. Marx’s claim is that, while the historical creation of capitalism was premised on massive amounts of violence, the reproduction of those relations also—though not exclusively—relies on the ‘mute com- pulsion of economic relations’, or what I referred to as economic power.2





Marx’s critique of political economy is not an alternative or a critical politi- cal economy, but a critique of the entire theoretical (or rather ideological) field of political economy (Heinrich, 1999a, pts 1, 2, 2012a, p. 32ff). Econ- omists are engaged in the business of transforming social relations into

2 In some (especially older) translations, Marx’s stumme Zwang is rendered as ‘dull compulsion’.


abstract, quantifiable units which can be inserted as variables into idealised (mathematical) models. Marx’s critical theory does the opposite: it unravels the social relations hidden in economic categories (Bonefeld, 2014). Marx’s theory is a critical theory of social relations in capitalist society—and those social relations are relations of domination. This means that from Marx’s per- spective the capitalist economy is essentially a system of power (Palermo, 2007).

This absolutely central point has unfortunately been lost in the work of many of Marx’s followers. I will return to this later on. It is also a perspective radically at odds with classical political economy as well as contemporary economics; for Marx, the economy is not a separate ontological domain or a separate sphere of society governed by its own economic rationality, prin- ciples, rules or logic. There is no such thing as a transhistorical economic logic, and the logic which governs the capitalist economy has nothing to do with the allocation of scarce resources, fulfilment of human needs or the rational and effective organisation of production, distribution and consump- tion. The economy is a set of social relations, and, in a capitalist economy, those relations are social relations of domination. This is arguably the most important insight in Marx’s critique of political economy, and this is what all the accu- sations of ‘economism’ levelled at Marx do not get.

Economics is an academic discipline premised on ‘the failure to recognize power relationships in society’, as Robert Chernomas and Ian Hudson has recently put it (2017, p. 7). Economists tend to depict the capitalist economy as the outcome of voluntary agreements between free and equal individuals;

as a sphere in which domination is excluded a priori. The economy is defined from the outset by the absence of power. For economists, the expression ‘free market’ is a pleonasm, whereas for Marx, it is a contradiction in terms. This denial of power is the result of a twofold intellectual operation. First, the market is presented as the determining moment of the economic totality, which means that a part of the economy is abstracted from the totality and represented as the whole. This primacy of exchange was already visible in classical political economy, despite its emphasis on production, but it only really came to the fore with the so-called marginal revolution in the 1870s (Perelman, 2011, p. 11; Clarke, 1991a, Chapter 6,7). In neoclassical eco- nomics, market exchange is presented as ‘the central organizing principle of capitalist society’, reducing production to ‘a means of indirect exchange be- tween the present and the future’ (Shaik, 2016, p. 120; see also Henning, 2015, p. 123). And, not only is the market presented as the essential feature of the economy as a whole, in some strands of modern economics—most


notably in the work of Gary Becker—the voluntary exchange of goods be- tween rational and utility-maximising agents is elevated into a prism through which all social phenomena, including crime, discrimination and politics, can and ought to be understood (Chernomas & Hudson, 2017, p.


The second intellectual operation underpinning the disappearance of power relationships in economics, is the introduction of a set of assumptions and abstractions resulting in a conception of the market which excludes the very possibility of domination. The agents who engage in transactions on the market are assumed to be isolated, hyper-rational and utility-maximis- ing individuals with infinite and infallible information and expectations.

Such rational individuals comprises the Archimedean point of the social on- tology of economics, a kind of sui generis substance which accounts for eve- rything else. Assuming this transhistorical economic rationality, the need to explain the existence of capitalism conveniently disappears. From such a perspective, the capitalist economy is simply what appears spontaneously if human nature is allowed to unfold itself. This is why ‘[i]n most accounts of capitalism and its origin, there really is no origin’, as Ellen Meiksins Wood (2002, p. 4) notes. The market is perceived as the place where these rational individuals meet and enter into contractual relations with each other. In a competitive market, there are barriers to entry, and hence no monopolies, apart from the regretfully necessary so-called natural monopolies. The ab- sence of monopolies means that a market agent is never forced to do busi- ness with a particular agent, which is why every act of exchange can be re- garded as voluntary. Furthermore, when individuals show up on the market, they do so as owners of commodities, and as such they are completely equal.

What and who these individuals are outside of the market relation is seen as irrelevant for economic theory, and the question of why they show up on the market to begin with is equally absent—generally, economics simply assume that people show up on the market to sell their commodities after having carefully weighed the possibilities open to them and reached the conclusion that this was in fact the most rational thing to do, i.e., the most efficient way to satisfy their needs. This is why it is possible for Milton Friedman (2002, p. 13) to present ‘the technique of the market place’ as a way of ‘co-ordinat- ing the economic activities of millions’ by means of ‘voluntary co-operation of individuals’:


Since the household always has the alternative of producing directly for itself, it need not enter into any exchange unless it benefits from it.

Hence, no exchange will take place unless both parties do benefit from it. Co-operation is thereby achieved without coercion.

This passage is noteworthy because it explicates what is usually hidden as an implicit assumption in economics, namely that people have the possibility of reproducing themselves outside of the market. This is the assumption which makes the market appear as a sphere of freedom: not only are agents free to choose who they want to exchange their goods with, they are also free to choose whether they want to engage in exchange at all. This is why the market is usually understood as an institution providing individuals with op- portunities, a concept ‘absolutely critical to the conventional understanding of the capitalist system’ (Wood, 2002, p. 6).

These assumptions and abstractions form the basis of the highly idealised mathematical models so characteristic of contemporary economics. The transformation of economics into a discipline fixated on the development of formalised mathematical models has allowed it to present itself as ‘a non- ideological discipline, aimed at providing positive, scientific answers to the policy questions’ (Chernomas & Hudson, 2017, p. 19; see also Boltanski &

Chiapello, 2018, p. 12ff). Economics has thus been able to live under the auspices of the natural sciences and present the economy as something reg- ulated by transhistorical laws similar to the laws discovered by the natural sciences.

Most economists recognise that reality does not always fit their idealised models. They admit that so-called market failures exist, that we have to in- troduce the possibility of imperfections in order to analyse the real economic movements, and that some goods or services can be difficult or even impos- sible to regulate through the mechanisms of competitive markets, resulting in natural monopolies. Market failures disturb the equality of market agents and thereby make it possible for an agent to dominate other agents—it is only in this way, through the concept of market failure, that power can enter into economics. On this view, power signals a deviation from the norm, a failure or imperfection of a system otherwise free from such disturbances:

‘Power relations emerge only when contracts are not correctly executed,’ as Giulio Palermo (2014, p. 188) sums up this idea in his critique of economics.

Although the effort to conceal relations of domination in the economy achieves its most glaring expression in modern economics, it is also


widespread in other social sciences. Barring Marxist traditions, to which I will return later, there is strong tendency in political science and sociology to simply leave the economy to the economists. Historically, the academic division of labour between political science, sociology and economics is to a large extent the result of developments within economics (Clarke, 1991a, Chapter 8). For classical thinkers such as Hobbes, Petty, Locke, Rousseau, Hume, Smith, Mill and Marx, there were no clear boundaries between what is now regarded as economics, political science, sociology and political phi- losophy. The gradual specialisation of economics created a cleavage be- tween itself, political science (as the study of the state) and sociology, which became, in the words of Simon Clarke (1991a, p. 10) ‘the discipline that studies the consequences of non-rational action and of action oriented to other than economic goals’. Political science primarily concerns itself with the state and tends to have a state-centric notion of power. Put briefly, po- litical science assumes that power emanates from the state. This was what Michel Foucault reacted to when he noted that in the field of ‘political thought and analysis, we still have not cut off the head of the king’ (Foucault, 1998, p. 88f); a diagnosis which remains true today. However, Foucault is himself among the representatives of another way of avoiding the question of economic power. Like so many before as well as after him, Foucault often draws a non-sensical distinction between the economic and the social and claims, against what he perceives as Marxist economism, that ‘while the hu- man subject is placed in relations of production and of signification, he is equally placed in power relations’—as if relations of production are not also power relations (Foucault, 2002d, p. 327; see Poulantzas, 2014, pp. 36, 68f).

Foucault shares this view of Marxism with other influential thinkers such as Pierre Bourdieu, Anthony Giddens, Bruno Latour, Jürgen Habermas, Ul- rich Beck, Niklas Luhmann, Axel Honneth, Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe.3 One could even claim that the dominant trends in social theory in the last four decades can be seen as a reaction to what was perceived as Marxist economism. The common assumption shared by these scholars and traditions is that Marxism takes the economy, understood as a distinct social sphere with a distinct technical or economic rationality, to be the determin- ing moment of the social totality, thereby reducing the multifaceted nature of the social to this one factor. Bourdieu reacted to this by developing his

3 For Marxist criticisms of Bourdieu, Giddens, Latour, Habermas, Luhmann, Honneth and Laclau and Mouffe, see Callinicos (2004), Desan (2013), Henning (2015), Malm (2018c), Postone (2003), Reichelt (2013), Wood (1999).


theory of forms of capital, according to which cultural and social capital can- not be reduced to economic capital (Desan, 2013). Habermas abandoned Marx’s critique of political economy in favour of a Kantian-pragmatist the- ory of communication (Postone, 2003, Chapter 6). Laclau and Mouffe’s (2014, p. 107) post-Marxist theory of discourse broke with the economism of ‘classical Marxism’ by rejecting ‘the distinction between discursive and non-discursive practices’ and affirming ‘that every object is constituted as an object of discourse’, leading them straight into idealist constructionism.

Broadly speaking, what has been called the cultural turn of social theory following the crisis of Marxism in the 1970s resulted in a tendency to exclude the economy from discussions about power in contemporary society, or to approach the economy through a post-structuralist lens in which the mate- riality of social reproduction dissolves itself into an economy of signifiers. As Christoph Henning (2015, p. 18) puts it: ‘Neoclassical economics’ desociol- ogisation of economic theory was paralleled by a deeconomisation of soci- ology’.4

A similar tendency to misunderstand Marx’s conception of the economic is found in theories of Weberian lineage, such as Michael Mann’s ‘not very convincing attempts to knock down a Marxist straw man’ (Callinicos, 2004, p. xxxix; see also Wood, 2016, p. 146). Mann repeats the worn-out critique of ‘the Marxian scheme’ that allegedly attributes ‘ultimate primacy’ to the economy (M. Mann, 1997, p. 12). He relies on a deeply problematic concept of the economy, in which ‘production’ and ‘exchange’ are regarded as transhistorical moments of every historically specific economic system. Ac- cording to him, Marxists err in their focus on the mode of production, since this leads them to neglect exchange—a critique that not only fails to see how the Marxist concept of ‘mode of production’ includes exchange relations but also universalises and hence naturalises the historically unique function ex- change has in capitalist societies (M. Mann, 1997, p. 24).

A characteristic feature of many of these post-, non- or anti-Marxist social theories is their failure to distinguish between Marx and Marxism. Their criticism is often levelled against ‘Marxism’ in general, and although there is a misguided tendency to treat the Marxist tradition as one homogenous

4 A notable exception is the work of Karl Polanyi, whose emphasis on the social essence of ‘the economic’ and the historically unique separation of politics and economy in capitalism (or ‘market society’) has many similarities to Marx’s per- spective, even though this is apparently lost on Polanyi, who takes Marx to be a Ricardian political economist. See Polanyi (1977, 2001, pp. 49, 79, 131, 204).


bloc, the critique is—as I will come back to—actually often justified; there is indeed a deeply problematic economistic tendency in the Marxist tradi- tion. The problem with the thinkers just mentioned, however, is that their rejection of ‘Marxism’ leads them to a wholesale rejection of Marx and his critique of political economy. Such a rejection implicitly claims that Marx also had an economistic conception of the economy—an assumption which lies at the root of the innumerable straw-man criticisms of Marx. Rather than reducing the social to the economic, Marx did the exact opposite; as Wood (2002, p. 21) explains, he ‘treats the economy itself not as a network of disembodied forces but, like the political sphere, as a set of social rela- tions’.

What about Marxism, then? Have Marxist thinkers not picked up on Marx’s distinctive analysis of the economy as a system of abstract and im- personal domination? While the Marxist tradition is definitely the best place to look if one wants to understand how the power of capital works, no sys- tematic and satisfactory theory of the economic power of capital can be found there. In the first chapter of this thesis, I will provide a survey of how various Marxist traditions have grappled with the issue of power. So, instead of plunging into a detailed discussion here, let me just briefly indicate why I have found it necessary—despite the enormous amount of Marxist litera- ture on capitalism and power—to write this thesis. Broadly speaking, classi- cal Marxists such as Kautsky, Hilferding, Lenin and Plekhanov were unable to understand or even see what Marx called ‘the mute compulsion of eco- nomic relations’ because their theoretical outlook was hampered by at least one—though usually more than one—of the following problems: econo- mistic and technicist (mis)understandings of the economy, class-reductionist and state-centric conceptions of power, and false conclusions about the his- torical trends of capitalist development. Western Marxists such as Karl Korsch, Georgy Lukács, Antonio Gramsci, Theodor W. Adorno and Guy Debord overcame many of these limitations, but their tendency to focus on ideological power led them to remain firmly within the boundaries of the vio- lence-ideology couplet. The reinvigoration of Marxism in the 1960s changed this. Since then, and especially in the last two decades, a number of Marxist scholars—among them Harry Braverman, Moishe Postone, Mi- chael Heinrich, Ellen Meiksins Wood, Robert Brenner, Andreas Malm and William Clare Roberts—have produced important studies which have un- covered many crucial aspects of the economic power of capital. However, none of them have, for reasons I will discuss in detail as we go along,


succeeded in putting together a systematic and satisfactory theory of the his- torically unique form of power which characterises capitalist society.



, M


, S


The aim of this thesis is to develop a theory of the economic power of capi- tal, i.e., to explain why the power of capital takes the form of a ‘mute com- pulsion’, identify the sources of this power and develop concepts that make it possible to understand the mechanisms through which the subsumption of social life under the logic of valorisation is reproduced. I will do so by means of a detailed and critical interpretation of Marx’s writings and the relevant scholarly literature. Although Marx’s writings contain all of the basic elements for a theory of the economic power of capital, they do not contain such a theory in anything like a finished form. Marx left his critique of political economy unfinished in more than one sense. First, he only man- aged to publish one of the four books that were supposed to make up Capital (not to mention his plan to complement it with studies of the state, the world market, etc.). He left behind a massive number of notebooks and manu- scripts,5 some of which still have not been published. Second, this enormous research project is also unfinished in the sense that it contains unresolved theoretical problems (see Heinrich, 1999a). Marx’s thinking constantly de- veloped until the very end of his life, but this development was not always consistent. To cite an example, Marx defends a rather unambiguous pro- ductive force determinist philosophy of history in some of his writings from the 1840s and 1850s such as The German Ideology, The Poverty of Philosophy and A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy. Later on, especially while work- ing on the 1861-63 Manuscripts, he abandoned this conception, but as An- dreas Malm (2018b) has demonstrated, some of the basic assumptions con- nected to productive force determinism nevertheless crop up here and there in later writings. For this as well as other reasons, Marx’s writings do not contain anything like a complete or finished theory of the economic power of capital. The valuable insights for the construction of such a theory are scattered all over Marx’s numerous manuscripts, entwined not only with, discussions and treatments of other theoretical issues or concrete, empirical analyses, but also with patterns of thought belonging to different and

5 The Grundrisse, the 1861-63 Manuscripts, the 1864-65 Manuscript, the Results of the Immediate Process of Production and the first volume of Capital alone—likely the five most important texts in this thesis—amount to more than 5000 printed pages.


sometimes incompatible stages of the development of Marx’s theories. In order to extract and make use of Marx’s insights, it is therefore necessary to locate them, reconstruct their logical interrelations, critically examine and systematise them. That project constitutes a large part of the present thesis.

The conditions of such a critical and careful reading of Marx are better to- day than they have ever been. The ongoing publication of a scholarly edi- tion of Marx’s writings in the second Marx-Engels Gesamtausgabe (MEGA2) has made clear just how much the critique of political economy was a work in progress when Marx died in 1883 (see Heinrich, 2011).6 The publication of the 1861-63 Manuscripts in the 1970s and 1980s, the original drafts for the second and third book of Capital in the 1990s and 2000s and the manuscripts known as The German Ideology as late as 2017 has finally made it possible to read these manuscripts free from the sometimes very questionable editing by Engels, Kautsky and David Ryazanov. The publication of Marx’s note- books in the fourth section of the MEGA2 has led to a series of important studies responding to many of the criticisms levelled against Marx by various intellectual trends which established themselves from the 1970s onwards:

Marx cannot simply be rejected as determinist, euro-centric, orientalist or promethean (K. B. Anderson, 2016; Burkett, 2014; Foster, 2000; Pradella, 2015; Saito, 2017). Marx’s writings are increasingly treated as an unfinished research project which has to be developed further, rather than a finished theory which simply has to be applied to concrete situations. The tendency to treat Marx as an infallible oracle largely died out with Marxism-Lenin- ism, and this has contributed to the creation of a more open-minded, intel- lectually curious and serious atmosphere of debate about Marx’s thought.

I want to emphasise, however, that this thesis is not a marxological exer- cise aiming to reconstruct the inner logic of Marx’s thought. My aim is not to determine what Marx meant, but to develop a theory of how capital repro- duces itself by means of economic power. In order to do this, I have often found it necessary to engage in detailed analyses and discussions of Marx’s writings and his intellectual development—but when I do so, it is always because I believe it can ultimately help us understand the economic power of capital. And although Marx’s writings play a key role in my analysis, they are far from the only important interlocutors and sources concepts, inspira- tion, information and ideas; I will draw on all sorts of relevant literature, Marxist as well as non-Marxist.

6 For a good overview of the different editions of Marx’s writings, see the appendix to K. B. Anderson (2016, pp. 247–252).


As previously mentioned, this thesis deals with capitalism in its ideal av- erage, which means that it endeavours to say something about the essence of capitalism, irrespective of its many particular variations. The easiest way to explain what this entails is to consider what takes place in the first volume of Capital. Marx begins with a historical fact, namely that in capitalist socie- ties the products of labour generally take on the form of commodities. This is a simple empirical finding that singles out a characteristic trait of the capitalist mode of production, thus setting it apart from non-capitalist modes of production, where only a marginal share of the products of labour is produced for ex- change. Then, Marx goes on to ask: what must be the case if the commodity is the general social form of the products of labour? What kind of social relations must be in place in order for this to be possible? From this starting point, he then derives the fundamental concepts and structure of his theory, such as the distinctions exchange value, use value and value as well as con- crete and abstract labour, the necessity and functions of money, the concept of capital, the theory of surplus value and exploitation, the class relation underlying this, the distinction between absolute and relative surplus value, and certain dynamics of capitalist production. This series of derivations is the execution of ‘the method of rising from the abstract to concrete’, which Marx announces in the 1857 Introduction (G: 101). As Alex Callinicos (2014, p. 132) notes, this method is not simply a matter of gradually approaching the empirically observable reality (see also Bidet, 2007, p. 174). Approach- ing the concrete refers rather to the gradual increase in conceptual com- plexity as a result of introducing more and more concepts and specifying their interrelations; by being situated within a more and more elaborate the- oretical structure, the methodological abstractions of the earlier stages of the theoretical progression is gradually sublated.

Marx essentially derives all of the basic concepts of his critique of political economy from the assumption of generalised commodity exchange. What many commentators fail to notice is that Marx also relies on certain socio- ontological presuppositions when dialectically constructing his system. Con- sider, for example, the role of the ‘natural’ length of the working day (i.e., the fact that humans need to sleep) or the ‘natural’ basis of surplus value (i.e., the human ability to produce more than what is necessary for the re- production of the individual). These are two quite significant facts, and both play an important role in the conceptual progression of Capital. Neither of them can, however, be derived from the historically specific structures of capitalist society. They are rather characteristics of human societies as such,


independently of their historical variations; they form a part of the ontology of the social (which also includes facts of nature, as the examples make clear).

This demonstrates that there are two independent theoretical presupposi- tions of Marx’s critique of political economy: on the one hand, socio-onto- logical presuppositions concerning what must be the case in any form of so- ciety, and, on the other hand, a historical fact, i.e., the generalisation of the commodity form. The dialectical reconstruction of the essential structures and dynamics of the capitalist mode of production proceeds, then, from cer- tain assumptions about the transhistorical features of human societies on the one hand and a historically specific fact about the capitalist mode of production on the other. From these two kinds of presuppositions, Marx builds the fun- damental concepts of his theory.

This does not, however, mean that Marx’s critique of political economy can be reduced to a pure analysis of the dialectics of economic form-deter- minations, as some scholars tend to do (e.g. Arthur, 2004b; Projektgruppe zur Kritik der Politischen Ökonomie, 1973; Reichelt, 1973). The critique of political economy is an analysis of the core structure of capitalism by means of a dialectical analysis of social forms, but it is also an analysis of the history of capitalism as well as, more specifically, 19th century British capitalism.

The empirical and historical parts of Capital and related manuscripts are not simply illustrations of concepts. Not only do they often contain substantial historical and empirical analyses in their own right, at certain points they also enter into the conceptual development, as the example of the natural length of the working day demonstrates.7 The ‘dialectical form of presenta- tion is right’, Marx notes, ‘only when it knows its limits’ (29: 505). What prevents the empirical and historical parts of Marx’s critique from collaps- ing into a chaotic collection of data, however, is precisely that they are pre- sented within a systematic theoretical structure constructed by means of a

7 One of the indicators of Marx’s commitment to the collection, analysis and presentation of empirical material is the fact that he updated the data used in the first volume of Capital for the second edition. For a good account of Marx’s method, see Heinrich (1999a, Chapter 5). In their critique of value form theory, Callinicos (2014, p. 180) and William Clare Roberts (2017, p. 11) both take Hein- rich to account for what Callinicos calls ‘etherealism’. Heinrich is quite clear, how- ever, that empirical and historical material play an important role in Marx’s pro- ject, and it is unnuanced to put him in the same category as Chris Arthur. See Heinrich (1999a, p. 177f).


dialectical development of concepts—it is this method which ‘indicates the points where historical considerations must enter’ (G: 460).

In my analysis of the economic power of capital, I will attempt to follow Marx’s procedure. The advantage of such an analysis is that it makes it pos- sible to grasp the logical relation between different social phenomena, in- stead of merely registering an empirical relationship. To give an example, Marx criticised the Proudhonian ideal of a market economy without capital by demonstrating how the universalisation of the commodity form in fact presupposes capitalist property relations—an argument which has strategic implications, since it concerns what is and what is not an essential part of a capitalist economy (see Mau, 2018b). This is precisely what an empirical description cannot provide; experience might tell us ‘what is, but never that it must necessarily be thus and not otherwise’, as Kant (1998, p. 127) puts it. Rather than beginning with the commodity form, however, I build on Marx’s analysis and proceed from what I take to be the simplest definition of capitalism: a society in which social reproduction is governed by the logic of capital to a significant degree. This is a rather vague definition; what ex- actly is ‘a significant degree’? Such vagueness, however, is neither possible nor desirable to avoid if we wish to study historical social formations. There are no absolute historical boundaries between pre-capitalist societies and capitalism; the question of whether a society is capitalist or not is always a question of more or less. Yet, this does not pose a problem for my analysis, since I am not concerned with the historical emergence of capitalism. In other words, my analysis presupposes that social reproduction is governed by the logic of capital to a significant degree. I will thus attempt to construct a theory which discloses the forms of power implied by the essential determi- nations of the capitalist mode of production. In contrast to Marx’s proce- dure in Capital, I make no attempts to provide substantial empirical or his- torical analyses. Although I will occasionally integrate empirical and histor- ical data and studies into my presentation, these will have the status of ex- amples and illustrations rather than exhaustive analyses.

The object of this thesis is the economic power of capital, and for this reason I will largely disregard the role played by ideology as well as violence in the reproduction of capitalist relations of production. I want to stress that this does not mean that I consider ideology and violence to be merely secondary or unimportant. Numerous critics of ideology—from Reich through Gram- sci and Althusser to Žižek—have convincingly demonstrated that capitalism is unable to reproduce itself without the exercise of ideological power. The


same is true of violence, a form of power which has primarily been discussed in the context of Marxist theories of the state. In the late 1970s, Poulantzas (2014, pp. 78, 80) pointed out that, contrary to the popular idea that ‘mod- ern power is grounded not on organized physical violence, but on ideologi- cal-symbolic manipulation, the organisation of consent, and the internaliza- tion of repression,’ state violence still ‘occupies a determining position’. The organised violence of the state was not only necessary for the historical crea- tion of capitalism, it also continues to play a crucial role in the reproduction of capitalism. Without a social institution with ‘the privilege and will to force the totality’ (G: 531), as Marx puts it, it is simply not possible to organise social reproduction on a capitalist basis. This insight received a particularly acute and theoretically sophisticated articulation in the so-called state deri- vation debate of the 1970s, which generated a lot of important insights into the nature of the capitalist state and the ways in which the immanent con- tradictions of capitalist production make certain state functions necessary (see Elbe, 2008, pt. 2; Holloway & Picciotto, 1978b). The necessity of the state and its capacity to employ violence in order to enforce private prop- erty, manage class relations, regulate monetary policy, appropriate a share of surplus value in order to build infrastructure, etc., does not, however, change the fact that the relations of domination involved in social reproduc- tion are to a large extent reproduced by means of the mute compulsion of capital. The characteristic thing about the separation between ‘the political’

and ‘the economic’ in capitalism is, in the words of Wood (2016, p. 31), that it implies ‘a complete separation of private appropriation from public duties’

and hence ‘the development of a new sphere of power devoted completely to private rather than social purposes’. In this new sphere of power, social life is subjected to the logic of valorisation primarily through mute compul- sion. The choice to focus on the economic power of capital means that this thesis will only aim at a partial understanding of the power of capital. In order to construct a full theory of the power of capital, it would be necessary to integrate the theory of the economic power of capital with theories of ideology and (state) violence. Such a task is, however, beyond the scope of the present study.

A theory of the power of capital constructed at the level of abstraction of the ideal average of the capitalist mode of production traces the social rela- tionships and mechanisms of power and domination necessarily implied by the capital form itself. These, however, are not the only relations and mechanism which contribute to the reproduction of capitalism. The sources of the


power of capital are not limited to mechanisms and relations springing more or less directly from capital itself; they also include a virtually endless num- ber of social norms, hierarchies and practices, which do not originate in the capital form. In this thesis, the object of study is not simply the mechanisms which reproduce the power of capital but rather a subset of these mecha- nisms, namely those that can be shown to have a necessary connection to the capital form itself. In order to make this a bit clearer, let us take the example of racism. Marx noted that racist attitudes towards the Irish among British workers were ‘the secret of maintenance of power by the capitalist class’ (43: 475).8 This is an example of how racism contributes to the repro- duction of the power of capital; racist ideology is a source of capital’s power.

This does not mean, however, that we can deduce the necessity of racist attitudes towards Irish workers from the capital form. We can empirically es- tablish the connection between capital and racism towards the Irish, and I think we can also go a bit further than this and claim that capital generally tends to strengthen social hierarchies among workers wherever it finds them, as this will usually allow employers to pit workers against each other and thereby weaken their ability to resist. What we cannot do, however, is to ac- count for the existence of particular social hierarchies solely on the basis of the capital form.

In so far as we are concerned with the construction of a theory of capital- ism in its ideal average, we thus have to ask: what kinds of socially significant classification of human beings are necessary in order for social reproduction to be governed by the logic of capital? Does this logic presuppose specific forms of social difference? In chapter three, I will argue that capitalism nec- essarily requires a specific class structure in which some people control the access to the conditions of social reproduction, while others are excluded from the direct access to them. This is a difference presupposed by the very essence of capital. I do not believe, however, that it is possible to derive other forms of social difference from the capital form. Most arguments about the necessary connection between capitalism and racism or sexism, or other forms of oppression, proceed from the fact that systems of racial and gender difference exist, and then goes on to analyse the relation between those

8 Similarly, commenting on the US, Marx remarked in Capital that ‘[l]abour in a white skin cannot emancipate itself where it is branded in a black skin’ (C1: 414).

For a discussion of this dimension of Marx’s thought, see K. B. Anderson (2016).


differences and the imperatives of capital.9 In other words, racism and sex- ism enter into the theoretical structure as an empirical fact, from which the analysis can then proceed. This is obviously a reasonable assumption; rac- ism and sexism has indeed permeated all capitalist societies. And in so far as the aim is to say something about the actual—as opposed to the necessary—

relation between capitalism and racism or sexism, I see no problems in such a procedure. However, empirical convergence can never disclose a neces- sary relation. If the aim is to identify the essence of capitalism in its ideal average, we cannot rest content with such a procedure.

The argument advanced here is not that capitalism is colour-blind or in- different to gender differences. I agree with Michael Lebowitz (2006, p. 39) when he argues that ‘the tendency to divide workers by turning their differ- ences into antagonism and hostility’ is ‘an essential aspect of the aspect of the logic of capital’.10 The point I am making is that, on the level of capital- ism in its ideal average, all we can say is that capital has a structural propen- sity to reproduce social differences. What we cannot do on this level of ab- straction, however, is to determine the concrete character of these differ- ences, i.e., whether capital will gamble on differences and hierarchies which have to do with ‘race’, gender, sexuality, religion, nationality, language, body form, disabilities or any other kind of social difference we can think of.

For these reasons, I will make no attempt to provide a systematic analysis of the role played by the (re)production of difference in the maintenance of the power of capital. I will occasionally discuss examples of how the imperatives of capital are entwined with other forms of oppression, but a satisfactory analysis of these inter-relations would require a more comprehensive theo- retical framework and can only be conducted a different level of abstraction.

The claim that it is possible to theoretically isolate and identify the core structures that makes capitalism capitalist does not imply that there exists a

9 This is the case, to cite just a few examples, with Bhattacharya (2017a), A. Y.

Davis (1983), Federici (2012) and Lewis (2016). ‘The existence of women’s oppres- sion in class-societies is, it must be emphasised, a historical phenomenon. It can be analysed, as here, with the guidance of a theoretical framework, but it is not itself deducible theoretically’ (Vogel, 2014, p. 154). ‘One cannot know such things [i.e., whether racism is necessary to capitalism or not] in advance, on the basis of principles abstracted from concrete historical life. What we can say is that the ac- tual historical process by which capitalism emerged in our world integrally in- volved social relations of race and racial domination’ (McNally, 2017, p. 107).

10 see also Chen (2013), Roediger (2017, p. 25f), Chibber (2013, p. 140ff).


logic of capital which operates independently of the production of social dif- ference. Capitalism in its ideal average does not exist as anything other than a theoretical abstraction. There is nothing mysterious about this; the con- struction of such abstractions is a standard scientific procedure. In ‘the anal- ysis of economic forms neither microscopes nor chemical reagents are of assistance’, as Marx writes in the preface to Capital: ‘[t]he power of abstrac- tion must replace both’ (C1: 90). In its actual existence, the logic of capital is entangled in complicated webs of social difference, and a study of the power of capital in a geographically and historically specific situation would have to take that into account. But this thesis is not such a study, and for this reason, I generally abstract from the relation between those mechanisms of power which emanate from the capital form itself and those that do not.

Before I move on to an outline of the chapters that follow, I also want to emphasise that the position defended here with regards to the relation be- tween the logic of capital and ‘the production of difference’ does not imply ascribing political primacy to any specific emancipatory struggle. The claim that we cannot derive racism or sexism solely from the logic of capital, for example, does not imply the view that struggles against racism and sexism are less important, urgent or fundamental than explicitly anti-capitalist struggles. Neither does it imply that these are or should be separate struggles.

The claim that the logic of capital does not necessarily imply a specific form of social differentiation does not rule out that the rule of capital might, in a concrete configuration of the capitalist mode of production, be inextricable from misogyny, islamophobia, nationalism, heterosexism or any other form of oppression. What it does imply is that the reasons for this inextricability are not to be found solely in the logic of capital, but rather in the manner in which this logic interacts with other concrete aspects of the situation in ques- tion. For this reason, the argument defended here does not rule out that, in some concrete situation, the struggle against sexism or racism might be eo ipso anti-capitalist.11

11 An example of a failure to acknowledge this can be found in Wood’s (2016, p.

264) discussion of the relationship between class struggle and what she calls ‘extra- economic goods,’ such as ‘gender-emancipation, racial equality, peace, ecological health, democratic citizenship’. Citing the example of sexism, she argues that

‘there is no specific structural necessity for, nor even a strong systemic disposition to, gender oppression in capitalism’. From this, she attempts to derive the ‘strate- gic implication’ that ‘struggles conceived in purely extra-economic terms—as purely against racism or gender oppression, for example—are not in themselves


To sum up, the aim of this thesis is to build a theory of the ideal average of a specific subset of a specific form of power of a specific social logic in a specific form of society, namely those mechanisms of the economic power of capital which can be identified on the level of abstraction of the core structure of capital- ism. The amount of delimitations outlined in this section might lead one to wonder what the utility of such a narrowly defined undertaking could pos- sibly be. In the course of the thesis, I hope to demonstrate that the mute compulsion of capital is in fact a social force which has tremendous influence on the life of everyone in the contemporary world.



The thesis is divided into three parts, with two chapters in each. The first part is about conditions in a two-fold sense: on the one hand, the theoretical conditions of the rest of the thesis, and on the other hand, the real conditions of the economic power of capital. The main task of chapter one is to clarify what it means to speak of ‘the power of capital’ and to identify the strengths and the shortcomings of conceptions of power in the Marxist tradition. After a brief examination of the terminology employed by Marx in his discussions of power and domination, I confront the question of what notion of power we need in order to understand capital’s influence on social life. I demon- strate that mainstream theories of power in sociology and political theory tend to rely on a number of assumptions which obliterate and obscure the workings of capital, and that they also tend to reproduce an economistic conception of the economy. I then move on to a discussion of what capital is.

Contrary to scholars such as Moishe Postone and Chris Arthur, I argue that capital is not a subject. Instead, I argue that capital is a social logic which involves a specific set of social relations among human beings, as well as the emergent properties of those relations. At first sight, this seems to imply that we cannot speak of capital as something which is capable of exercising power, since most theories of power agree that it presupposes agency or subjectivity.

fatally dangerous to capitalism’, which means that ‘they are probably unlikely to succeed if they remain detached from an anti-capitalist struggle’ (Wood, 2016, p.

270). The crucial words here are purely and in themselves. Struggles are always con- crete struggles undertaken in situations where they inevitably interact with various social hierarchies, tensions and struggles in the specific conjuncture—in other words, struggles are never pure, and for this reason, the question of what struggles are in themselves is always an analytical abstraction. Put differently, one never fights racism ‘in itself’.


In opposition to this assumption, I argue that it does makes sense to speak of power as something that can be exercised by emergent properties of social relations among human agents or subjects. This makes it becomes possible to clarify the notion of the power of capital; power refers to a particular kind of social relation between human subjects, as well as the emergent properties of such relations, and the power of capital refers to capital’s ability to subsume social life under its logic. After having clarified this notion, I move on to a critical survey of the way in which power has been thought of in the Marxist tradition. Finally, I end the chapter with a discussion of Foucault’s concep- tion of power and its possible usefulness for my purposes.

The theme of chapter two is the social ontology of economic power. The aim here is to understand why such a thing as ‘mute compulsion’ is possible at all. What is it about human societies that allows them to weave an abstract and impersonal form of domination into the material fabric of their own reproduction? Why is it possible for them to get entangled in webs of real abstractions? In order to answer these questions, I propose to reconsider Marx’s widely neglected analysis of what he and Engels refer to as the ‘cor- poreal organisation’ of the human being. I argue that Marx’s analysis of the human body contains a foundation for a social ontology capable of over- coming an abstract dualism of nature and society while also avoiding the equally misguided collapse of this distinction in discursive idealism as well as in new materialism. Marx’s analysis of human dependence upon extra- somatic tools reveals the ontological precarity inherent in the human me- tabolism. Humans are dependent upon other humans as well as nature, but their natural being does not entail a specific way of organising this metabo- lism. The relation between the human being and the rest of nature is uniquely flexible and underdetermined, and for this reason, relations of domination can seize hold of the life of these animals in a manner unavail- able to other species. In short, I demonstrate that we can explain the possi- bility of economic power on the basis of a reconstruction of Marx’s analysis of the specificities of the human metabolism. This also allows me to revisit the debate on (anti-)humanism in Marx and demonstrate how both sides in this debate tend to rely on a false assumption, namely that the concept of human being has the same role in the theory of history and in the critique of capitalism. Against this, I will argue that the concept of human being does indeed play an important role in Marx’s social ontology, but that the very same concept explains why it can never serve as the basis of a critique of capital- ism.


The title of part two is relations. This part is concerned with a major source of the economic power of capital: the relations of production. Following Robert Brenner, I distinguish between two fundamental sets of social rela- tions, the unity of which constitutes the capitalist relations of production: on the one hand, a particular set of horizontal relations among units of produc- tion as well as among immediate producers, and, on the other hand, a par- ticular set of vertical (class) relations between the immediate producers and those who control the conditions of social reproduction.

Chapter three examines the vertical relations, i.e., the form of class domi- nation presupposed by capitalist production. I argue that in order to under- stand the full extent of this domination, it is important to broaden the notion of class and define it as the relation of a group of people to the means of social reproduction. Such a notion of class allows us to avoid the common tendency to think of class antagonism in capitalism as a relation between capitalists and wage-labourers at the point of production and see that this particular aspect of class antagonism is the result of a much more encom- passing form of class domination in which the subordinate part includes eve- ryone who is dependent upon the circulation of capital for their survival, regardless of whether they are wage labourers or not. Following Marx, I analyse the proletarian as a historically specific subject: an ontologically poor and transcendentally indebted life cut off from its conditions and re- duced to a pure possibility of labour compelled to surrender itself to the me- diations of capital in order to be translated into actuality and thereby re- connected to its conditions. Building on the analysis of the human corporeal organisation in chapter two, I explain how capital inserts itself as the medi- ator between life and its conditions, thereby allowing it to appropriate sur- plus labour from proletarian bodies without having to resort to the use of violence. This is a form of class domination which operates on the level of the conditions of possibility of social life, and for this reason I propose to conceptualise it by means of a modified version of Michael Hardt and An- tonio Negri’s notion of transcendental power. Another related topic I address in this chapter is the question of whether capitalist production presupposes a specific organisation of the reproduction of labour-power, and what we can say about the (gender) identity of those who perform this reproductive la- bour. I argue that capitalism is very flexible with regards to how labour- power is reproduced, and that we cannot derive the identity of those who are forced to do reproductive labour from the scission between a productive and reproductive sphere. In the final section of the chapter, I address the


notion of biopolitics in the works of two of the most influential thinkers of power in recent decades: Michel Foucault and Giorgio Agamben. I argue that their lack of understanding of capitalism leads both of them to misun- derstand the origins and meaning of modern biopolitics, and that Marx’s analysis of the proletarian condition provides us with a superior framework for understanding why the modern state had to assume the task of adminis- tering the life of the population.

Chapter four examines the horizontal relations of production. The central concepts here are value and competition. I begin the chapter with an interpre- tation of Marx’s theory of value as a theory of the abstract and impersonal domination which arises when social reproduction is organised by means of the exchange of products of labour as commodities. The generalisation of the commodity-form results in a peculiar kind of socialisation in which social relations are transformed into real abstractions imposing themselves on the social totality through the anonymous pressure of the market. The market should accordingly be understood as a mechanism of domination that cuts across class distinctions in the sense that everyone is subjected to its move- ments. On the basis of this analysis it becomes possible to determine the precise relation between the horizontal relations among units of production and the vertical class relation examined in chapter three—a task which has been widely neglected in the literature. I argue that neither of them can be reduced to the other: value is not just an effect of class, nor is class domina- tion merely a derived form of the domination of everyone by value. At the same time, however, they relate differently to each other: while value presup- poses class domination, the opposite is not the case. Class domination is thus a necessary yet not sufficient condition of value. The main conclusion of this analysis is that the economic power of capital involves the domination of one class by another as well as the domination of everyone by capital, and that while these two dimensions of the economic power of capital mutually mediate each other, they originate in two irreducible sets of social relations. The last section of chapter four is devoted to competition, the mechanism which ‘executes’ the laws of capital, as Marx puts it. I argue that the concepts of competition and value refer to the same set of relations but on different levels of abstraction.

Like value, competition is a form of domination which subjects everyone to the imperatives of capital.

The social relations examined in part two give rise to certain dynamics which are simultaneously a result and a source of the economic power of cap- ital. Put differently: the economic power of capital turns out to be partly the



Copyright © 2008 Danish Technological Institute Page 16 of 20 Figure 8: Class diagram depicting the structure of each Concrete

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